It is easy to forget in the grind of life how few days we have with our young ones. When we do remember, we rush around doing as many things as possible, so that they'll have experiences and we won't look like bad parents. There is an easier and more effective way to do this.
1. Choose the Way to Stretch Your Child
Every child has areas where they need to stretch, but stretching in too many ways at once can not only eliminate the fun, but the educational value as well. If they struggle with groups and new experiences, try out the new thing a couple times before doing it in a group. Be aware of your children’s struggles and teach them to face them.
Learning to handle struggles well is a life skill, but facing too many at once will reduce the effectiveness of the experience. If you wait too long, they can become large fears. A few ways to handle these areas include approaching them from different directions, try them three times, and make it a part of something fun. If a child is struggling with groups, you can play games, invite people over to play in their normal play space, and then go to a parade or a zoo. Doing things multiple times teaches children to face fears and work towards enjoying them while reaffirming their choice to face up to their struggles.
Stretching a child is good, but like muscles straining too hard in different directions, can do more damage than good. Set a time limit to the excursion and encourage them to make it.
2. Set Up a Playtime Routine
For daily activities, preschoolers should have a safe place to spend time both inside and outside. To encourage independent and quiet play time, follow three easy guidelines:
1) Pick a Toy - Blocks, Linking Toys, or Connecting Beads work well.
2) Set a Timer - My goal is thirty minutes.
3) Practice Clean-up Routine - After we’re done with the toy, we pick it up and put it away before doing the next thing.
When children learn that every activity needs planning and pick up, they bring those habits into their school and work years. When I’m cleaning the kitchen or doing laundry, my son helps me in the same way by picking up a sock or spoon and handing it to me to put away. We practice please and thank you sign language, also. Altogether the playing process reflects and blends with the tasks and activities your child will need to learn as they grow up into contributing members of the household!
3. Don’t Go Big, Go Home
While big events can be fun, small children often feel easily overwhelmed by all the new experiences. After all, new experiences take brain power. Your home is the perfect, safe place to introduce your child to some of the most beautiful and exciting experiences they will enjoy throughout their lives. Cook as a family and experience new tastes, read stories in a fort in your living room, or get an animal and learn how to care for them. Create a connection to familiar things, so that introducing new things becomes a fun experience rather than a dreaded ordeal. You don’t have to rush your child’s discovery to get to the next big thing either. They can squish the mud under their toes in the garden, check out the inch worm on the grass, and smell fresh tomatoes. They will learn to be aware of the world around them and thankful for the thousands of tiny gifts.
4. Break Routine
For some this is easy, but many organized, routine oriented families can’t handle the thought of breaking the system. Unfortunately, this can be bad for kids who need to learn that our days are filled with wrenches and potholes. Sometimes we are dropped head first in things that terrify us and we need to learn to handle that. Also, there are good and exciting things that happen spontaneously. From emergency hospital visits to visiting family or circuses (or a combination as the case may be) learning to handle interruptions to routine is a life long skill. And sometimes we need to bust out of the house into the woods to see spring’s shocks of purple and fall’s swathes of auburn locks. That is good for the soul.
Humans are learners. Everything we do is an outgrowth of learning and habit. Limiting exposure and doing new things, being creative, are all aspects of making learning fun. There are hundreds of ways to explore the world and build up competent and wise adults. It all begins with the attitude of the parent. Be aware of stretching points, build fear facing habits, make play time routines and don’t rush. All of this is important, but remember you are preparing your child for life. Teach your child to learn from everything, be industrious and attentive, and observe all of the beautiful world, then no matter the struggles they face, they will be able to handle them well.